James: A How-To Guide
James is probably the oldest book in the New Testament, the first to be written after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It was penned by James, a brother of Jesus, who was the pastor of the first church in Jerusalem. He was writing to the people of God who were followers of Christ, “the twelve tribes,” scattered all over the world. His is one of the few letters not addressed to a particular church in a particular location. All of the wisdom in this book is easily applicable to the whole church.
James is filled with practical “how-to” stuff, thus the title of this series, James: A How-To Guide. The pastoral staff agreed that we all needed to hear some really practical, down-to-earth, basic Christianity. And the pastor of the Jerusalem church wades right in to his first tough topic, how to handle trials. If you are a new Christian, this is one of the most important things you will ever learn how to do, handle trials in a way that honors God and grows your faith. Trials will either make you more like Christ or they will make you give up!
James starts off with a bang, telling his readers to “consider it pure joy” to face trials, and I suspect this over-the-top language is intentional. I imagine James’ imperative in verse 2 left his readers taken aback. The men and women who first saw these words were going through a period of intense persecution. They lived in a culture that was extremely hostile to the faith. Christians were hated, marginalized, maligned, and sometimes fed to the lions in the first century! And James tells them to “count it pure joy!”
When trials come my way, pure joy isn’t what I’m thinking. Pure misery is more like it. Thing is, when you go through trials, you develop the ability to persevere. Kind of like the way someone training for a marathon develops endurance. If you don’t give up, the end result is something good. And the anticipation that God is going to work, the knowledge that something good can come from something that hurts so much, well, that’s worth rejoicing over.